US Navy sailor accused of selling documents to China was encouraged by mother: feds
Category: News & PoliticsVia: vic-eldred • 2 months ago • 8 comments
By: Story by Caitlin Doornbos
WASHINGTON – Thanks, mom.
A China-born US Navy sailor accused of selling sensitive ship information to the Chinese government was denied bail on Tuesday after prosecutors said his mother encouraged him to participate in the scheme.
Jinchao Wei, 22, faces four charges in San Diego federal court related to his alleged deal with an unnamed Chinese military intelligence officer to provide “documents, sketches, plans, notes and information” in exchange for cold, hard cash.
The officer asked Wei in February 2022 to work as an informant as he was applying to become a naturalized citizen.
Despite knowing it could threaten his chances, Wei ultimately agreed to the arrangement, prosecutors said in the Tuesday detention hearing.
In arguing against his release from jail, Assistant US Attorney Fred Sheppard revealed that Wei’s mother, who was not named in court, knew of her son’s treasonous side hustle and encouraged him to continue cooperating because it could lead to a future job in the Chinese government.
China-born US Navy sailor Jinchao Wei, 22, accused of selling sensitive ship information to the Chinese government was denied bail on Tuesday after prosecutors said his mother encouraged him to participate in the scheme.
The mother, who lives in Wisconsin, made the statement while she hosted her son for Christmas last year, Sheppard said.
Prosecutors argued their relationship and her involvement would increase Wei’s flight risk, and Magistrate Judge Michelle M. Pettit denied the sailor bail.
Officials estimate that Wei made between $10,000 and $15,000 in the arrangement, though the exact amount has not yet been revealed.
As an enlisted machinist mate, the total was equal to at least 20% of Wei’s annual Navy salary.
In court documents, prosecutors alleged the kinds of information Wei allegedly leaked to the Chinese military could “place the national security of the United States, and the safety of the defendant’s fellow US Navy sailors, in jeopardy.”
Wei faces four charges in San Diego federal court related to his alleged deal with an unnamed Chinese military intelligence officer to provide “documents, sketches, plans, notes and information” in exchange for cold, hard cash.Getty Images
“Wei provided [the Chinese officer] with information regarding the defense and weapon capabilities of US Navy ships, potential vulnerabilities of these ships and information related to ship movement,” the indictment read.
The case comes at a point when American relations with China – which the Pentagon considers the US’ top adversary, according to the 2022 US Defense Strategy – are increasingly frayed as Beijing rapidly advances its military.
Prosecutors say Wei was aware that the arrangement could threaten US national security and the lives of his fellow sailors.
The same month Wei began working with the Chinese government, he had completed counterintelligence training, “which specifically warned him that foreign adversaries might try to recruit him through, among other avenues, social media and blogs,” according to court documents.
Defense experts told The Post that disclosing such information could allow the Chinese to take advantage not only of the vulnerabilities of Wei’s ship, the amphibious assault vessel USS Essex, but also those of other similar American landing helicopter dock ships.
In arguing against his release from jail, Assistant US Attorney Fred Sheppard revealed that Wei’s mother knew of her son’s side hustle and encouraged him to continue because it could lead to a future job in the Chinese government.Getty Images
The large, aircraft carrier-like vessels could be a key tool should war break out between the US and China due to their amphibious capabilities .
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday declined to comment specifically on Wei’s case, citing an “active ongoing investigation and under DOD’s jurisdiction,” but said the issue is one that the Biden administration “obviously take[s] very seriously.”
“We know that everybody in the military takes seriously their obligations to protect sensitive information and when that information is not protected – when it is deliberately shared with with foreign powers – that that is something that we all have to take seriously,” Kirby said.
Wei was indicted by a federal grand jury in June on charges of transmitting defense information to aid a foreign government, exporting defense articles without a license and two counts of conspiracy under a rarely-used Espionage Act statute that makes it a crime to gather or deliver information to aid a foreign government. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
“We all have to treat [this] with the appropriate level of sobriety and do what we can to not only hold people appropriately accountable when they have been proven guilty of that kind of an offense, but also to make sure that we take appropriate precautions and additional safeguards to protect that information,” Kirby added.
Wei is not the only California-based sailor accused of selling key US military information to Chinese intelligence officials.
Wenheng Zhao, 26, was also indicted on charges of conspiring to sell information, photos and video regarding Navy exercises, operations and facilities.
Prosecutors say Zhao began his double-dealing in August 2021 and continued until at least this past May.
Zhao allegedly was to collect about $15,000 in bribes from China for the information, which reportedly included location and timing details for a major US military exercise planned in the Western Pacific, where China keeps a close eye on foreign vessels.